Is your restaurant stifled by processes?

by John Jones | Oct 06, 2021

To restaurant owners and managers, time is money. Every table represents an opportunity to make revenue, so restaurateurs carefully manage their turn-time to ensure tables are always occupied. It is an essential process within restaurants and they’re very good at it although it is just one of many processes they deal with every day.

Unfortunately, some businesses can also be very good at creating and sustaining processes which could be vastly improved. In this short blog, we discuss the subject of redundant processes and encourage restaurateurs to take a deep dive into them to answer the question “do we really need this?”.

Process is everywhere, from our waking routines to the way we lock the restaurant late at night. We get used to doing certain things in a certain way and usually they are the best ways, proven over time to be effective. We design processes around the way our minds work and optimise them as the years go by, or perhaps we leave them as they were conceived on day one. 

The problem with personal processes is that they can become a hindrance when the business scales or new people come onboard. In such instances the basic need for the process may well remain sound, but its execution could become clumsy and not fit for purpose. 

One of our customers employed a long-standing finance administrator who was the backbone of all the process within the business. Let’s call him Harry, but that’s not his real name. Harry not only created and maintained processes within his own desk environment, but within the business as a whole. 

Over time Harry’s ways of working underpinned how others worked. Harry was a stickler for detail and had the ear of the boss, which was very handy if Harry felt that other members of staff were deviating from his processes. Any transgression or challenge to Harry’s processes was usually met with a stern telling off accompanied by a well worn phrase “the auditors won’t like that”. 

Because Harry knew things about finances (such as auditors) that others didn’t, most members of staff reluctantly accepted that he was the expert and these processes were just the way things had to be.

Some areas within the business need the most robust, transparent and immovable processes due to their sensitive nature, be them financial or legislative, and we wouldn’t for a moment question their legitimacy. However, the way we safeguard can always be refined while maintaining the essence of protecting whatever it was we originally set out to protect.

Every Monday morning, Harry could be seen at his desk reconciling last week’s takings and everyone knew not to disturb him, as this was the most intense and serious task of his week, evidenced by reams of paper, ePOS rolls, enormous calculators, piles of bank notes, towers of pennies and and time-proven home-made paper forms and spreadsheets.

The problem was, Harry’s had designed his process some years ago and during that time it had been amended, improved, tinkered with and honed. It had become cemented into the fabric of the business as immovable and there had been no attempt to review it. Furthermore, various offshoot tasks had crept into others’ work - you know the kind of thing: “it’s just another form” or “can you just fill this in every time you do x?”.

What that particular restaurant had, then, was an extremely robust process for cash handling (and quite rightly) but gosh, it was long-winded. Some years later a new manager sat with Harry and discovered the reason for his extensive manual systems: Harry had never been trained in, or trusted, the restaurant management system - a piece of software instrumental elsewhere in the business - which actually was capable of simplifying these processes while maintaining their original purpose.

The issue, then, is one of embedded processes being left unreviewed for large periods of time, slowly drifting unnoticed further away from best or contemporary practice, consuming precious time which could be used to better effect elsewhere. They also have a habit of suppressing creativity within the business, so that when new ideas are suggested they are ignored and justified by “we’ve always done it that way”.

There is a fine line between implementing creative ideas and change for change’s sake, but most successful restaurateurs have become so by encouraging creative thinking and embracing peoples’ ideas. Without that, their businesses would have become stale and innovation subdued, ultimately leading to customer churn and difficulty in attracting new diners. 

Those protecting the processes will sometimes do so with a certain amount of zeal, putting up barriers around their work and using their proximity to the boss or their specialist knowledge to rebuff the idea of change, improvement or even scrutiny. This is well-meant, but frequently because, in truth, they are aware their methods are a little creaky but scared of what change might mean for them personally. 

We’ve seen other examples of needless processes within restaurants which cost their owners money and have little benefit (or at the very least can be improved following an honest review): Duplication of recorded data; multiple spreadsheets or ledgers; home-made MS Word forms and procedures to record things which didn’t need recording or never got looked at again. All could be cited as components of a day’s work maintained to simply justify the protector’s role.

We don’t agree with that assessment. Most processes are there for a reason and those who evangelise them do so with a genuine sense of loyalty to the business, with its best interests at heart. A sit-down chat with Harry, for example, revealed that his attitude to the business was one of total dedication and loyalty, but with a sense of isolation and fear for his role in the future. 

There is a very happy ending to this story. Harry and his manager carried out a process review, once the manager had convinced Harry that its purpose was to improve the business and make life easier. With a deep breath, various superfluous spreadsheets, home-made forms and a plethora of unnecessary work were swept away, in favour of more modern systems.

Harry now relishes his role and is re-energised: he is more efficient, meaning that he is more able to  apply his fine financial mind to data-driven and analytical tasks, rather than process-driven chores, much to the delight of his boss.

Wrapping up

Processes of all types are essential in any business, but sometimes the need to review them as the business changes can be overlooked. Deeply embedded procedures, often bloated over time and zealously guarded can be well-meant but ultimately serve to stifle efficiency and creativity. 

An honest, deep dive into any process will usually reveal better ways of achieving the same goals aligned with the business’ current needs rather than those of the past. Furthermore, once comfortable with the concept of process review, one-time protectors of age-old ways will relish the introduction of more efficient protocols and the benefits they bring to them personally and the business as a whole. 

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